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All in the Family: Welcome to Kaiser Grille

kaiser grille front

We feed those we care about. Mealtime is an opportunity to express our affection for the people in our lives that matter most, and Kaiser Grille is a beacon to belonging.

Lee Morcus is the gregarious maestro behind this successful restaurant, centrally located on the intersection of Palm Canyon Drive and Arenas Road… but it also marks the convergence of nostalgia and innovation.

kaiser grille evening

“There was always a house full of people and love.” Nestled in the foothills of Del Norte, Colorado, Lee’s hometown formed a foundation of his culinary disciplines. “My grandfather had a little farm and the only grocery store for miles; an old-fashioned grocery store with sawdust on the butcher floor.

That’s where Lee first learned that dedication to family yields dedication to your craft.

“My grandfather started working at 4:30 in the morning. That was my private time with him. That wasn’t work to me.” With a burst of enthusiasm, Lee elaborates, “I had it made, man!”

kaiser grille bar

Grandma’s Kitchen.

And the family that toils together boils together. Lee describes the flavors emanating from his childhood kitchen with a litany of international proficiency. Everything from lasagna, enchiladas and fried chicken were no match for his grandmother’s estimable skills. “I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but she could cook everything.”

“My most prized personal possessions are my grandmother’s recipes. I have two boxes on 3×5 cards, handwritten in Arabic. Before my mother passed, she translated every one into English. So I have my mother’s set in English and I have my grandmother’s master set, written in Arabic.”

kaiser grill food shot

Bridging the gap between past and present, Lee notes, “Our hummus and baba ghanoush recipe here at Kaiser is my grandmother’s recipe… I ate like a king, or a prince. That’s where I developed my love of food. I never had to figure out what I wanted to do or what I wanted to be when I grew up.” But he had plenty of role models. In addition to the work ethic and palatable profiles that his grandparents bestowed upon him, Lee craved the guidance of his father. An entrepreneurial hotelier, Lee’s dad was synonymous with the American dream. Together, the father-son team explored the desert landscape for inspiration, and they finally found it nearly 30 years ago.

kaiser grille hummas

Opened March 17th, 1992.

“It was St. Patrick’s Day. The entire desert showed up.”

Lee is an encyclopedia of cherished memories, but he also shares the more painful episodes from his life with an earnest transparency that is as refreshing as his signature cocktails. “My dad had a small heart attack in 1994 and I started spending more time here,” Lee recalls.

He opened a second location and grew the Kaiser Grille into one of the most essential dining spots in the heart of downtown Palm Springs. “I have the ability to see the vision and see ahead of things and see what others can’t. I get it from my dad.”

kaiser grille dining table

Summoning his aptitude for clairvoyance, Lee makes the most of setbacks, transforming them into steps forward. Even when the pandemic shuttered restaurants across the state, Kaiser was reimagining itself in substantial ways.

“We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars doing this work last summer,” explains Lee. “We’re building a new patio in the back because it’s becoming even more important.” Kaiser’s menu also enjoyed a makeover, benefitting from the best ingredients from around the globe. “We’ve always had a pretty broad-based American, California, fresh, Mediterranean menu – steaks, chops, fresh fish. Wood burning oven, amazing pastas.” When Lee elaborates on this last item, he beams with pride as he analyzes its raw elements. “The finest wheats, hard wheats. These wheats go back to biblical times. They’re non-GMO, they’re harder and heartier grains than used in America. So they’re healthier and cleaner.”

kaiser grille pizza oven

He paints a picture with words, poetically describing the clean, deep, mystical waters off the coast of Denmark where Kaiser sources its salmon. Lee regards each morsel with reverence and diagnostic detail, considering the entire life cycle of a meal, from seedling to serving.

Everything Is Made From Scratch.

“Our stocks, our sauces, our dressings… Honestly, there’s only one way to do it. That’s the right way.”

In addition to sourcing the highest quality produce and proteins, Kaiser Grille recently renovated its kitchen profoundly. “We spent two months designing a custom broiler last summer,” Lee narrates. “We can get up to 1,000 degrees for quick searing. It’s got four rotisseries, three grills that are adjustable in height. Now why did we do this? So I could have a beautiful exhibition show in the kitchen? That’s a byproduct, but I did it because it produces better food. I have total control over temperature.”

kaiser grille grill

Lee eschews the term fine dining and prefers to deliver an upscale yet inclusive gastro experience. “I want to give people the highest caliber experience without the formality and the pressure that comes with it.” Casual comfort food is served! Lee continues, “I don’t show up here to figure out how to make money. I show up every day saying, ‘How should we be better than we were yesterday? How can we become a better restaurant? How can we take better care of our guests?’ …If we get that right, the other stuff takes care of itself.”

kaiser grille main dining room

Reflecting on the lessons from his formative years, Lee surmises, “My family gave me the gift of what’s become not just a business for me, but a life and a passion. I was never afraid of hard work. I saw it firsthand from my entire family.”

And he conveys their grace and generosity with every plate at Kaiser Grille.

Here’s to you, Lee Morcus – your grandma would be proud.

By Kevin Perry

All photos credit: Kaiser Grille

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